The Neapolitan SARTU’ is a sophisticated timbale of rice filled with cheese, vegetables and meat. The name Sartù originates from a silver table centerpiece or surtout, used by the Naples’ nobility to serve the most important dish of a formal dinner.
Rice, imported into Italy by the Spaniards in the XIV century, had been snobbed by the pasta-eater Neapolitans as tasteless and only good for curing stomach illness.
They took until the end of 1700 to be convinced otherwise. By then rice was all the rage in France, the Bourbons ruled Naples and French cooks ruled the kitchens of aristocratic families. They made it complicated – as French style commands – as well as acceptable to the locals using popular ingredients such as tomato sauce and mozzarella.
Beyond its gallic construction however, Sartù is an encyclopedia of Italian cooking, if you make that you can practically make everything else.
The traditional recipe involves the use of lard, aged pecorino cheese and a thick meat ragout with chicken livers. I prefer a light tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese. It’s rich enough like this and feeds a small army. Remember, it’s so delicious that if you make it once for your family, they will ask it over and over again.
If you really like to “strengthen” the sauce, cook the sausages in it, rather than grilling them.
For the rice “shell”:
- 1 recipe tomato sauce with basil
- 450 gr. (1 pound) vialone nano, arborio or carnaroli rice
- 4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2-3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
For the filling:
- 1 recipe polpettine (mini meatballs):
- 1 recipe piselli al prosciutto (peas with ham)
- 1 recipe funghi trifolati (sauteed mushrooms)
- 1 and 1/2 cup Béchamel sauce
- 200 gr. (7 ounces) fresh mozzarella, diced
- 100 gr. (3 ounces) fresh pork sausage, fried (or grilled) and sliced
Prepare shell and filling:
Make a basic tomato sauce. Cook rice in plenty boiling hot water or stock for half of its cooking time, strain. Add egg, Parmesan cheese, tomato sauce, season with salt and pepper. If possible prepare the rice and sauce mixture one day in advance, it’s much easier to handle if it is cold.
Prepare meatballs, peas with ham, sauteed mushroom and Béchamel sauce.
Preheat oven at 200°C (40o°F).
Butter generously a round 30 cm (11 inch) ovenproof dish and dust it with breadcrumbs. Line the dish with a 2 cm (3/4 inch) thick layer of rice. You need to make sure that the rice layer is compact enough on the sides so that it will hold the filling.
Layer all other ingredients in the rice “shell” starting with the mini-meatballs and sausages and ending with the white sauce. Cover with the rest of the rice. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs, a couple of tablespoon Parmesan and dot with a butter. Bake for 20-30 min until slightly golden. Allow to rest for at least 10 min before serving.